High Point news is really big Interiors: At the recent wholesale furniture market, the emphasis was on the oversized.

November 12, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Nancy High of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association had just one word for this fall's International Home Furnishings Market.

Big.

Ms. High, spokeswoman for the association, wasn't talking about the size of the wholesale furniture market in High Point, N.C., where some 70,000 manufacturers, retailers, interior designers and members of the press gather twice yearly to view and perhaps order the designs that will be appearing in retail stores in about six months.

She was thinking of the "giant sized" beds introduced this market, with enormous turnings for bedposts. The proportionally large wooden pieces that went with them. The upholstered sofas and chairs, larger scaled so they looked more comfortable and easier to curl up in. The popular chair-and-a-half with oversized ottoman.

Drexel Heritage went big in a big way with its Bel-Aire collection -- eclectic, architectural furnishings inspired by a mix of California and Spanish styles. Tom Tilley, senior vice president of product design, used words like "generously scaled" and "important" to describe the pieces in the collection.

Often today's over-scaled furniture is tall rather than broad. Sofas have higher backs; chests of drawers are high -- perhaps because while big is in, there isn't always extra floor space for these massive pieces.

No one seems quite sure why oversized furniture continues to sell well in all price categories, but theories abound. "People want a statement piece of furniture," said Linda Jones of Masco Home Furnishings, parent corporation to a large number of furniture companies.

L "They want something that has substance, that looks secure."

And speaking of substance, Henredon introduced its first collection in solid wood -- five of them to be exact: cherry, oak, mahogany, walnut and reclaimed pine. (See sidebar.) Henredon's wood furniture up until this collection has been veneered, as has that of most high-end furniture companies.

No bold new statements

Like most of the major introductions, the Registry collection made no bold new design statements. Instead it offered tradition, a mix of European styles and the American West, a touch of country, a little informality and, above all, lots and lots of comfort.

Trend analysts and shelter magazines have been stressing the new importance of more formal design styles, but it just didn't happen at this market. "American Gothic got lots of play before market," said Nancy High, "But there wasn't a lot except in accessories."

On the whole, manufacturers played it safe with comfortable, casual, eclectic styles that would work in lots of different settings.

"It's been a pretty tough year to be a retailer," said industry analyst Jerry Epperson of Mann, Armistead & Epperson. "The smaller retailer chose not to attend. [For the most part,] this market was bland, very bread and butter.

"There were a lot of Alexander Julian look-alikes," he pointed out. "If there was a single theme it was more casual, more comfortable, a lot of it continuing." (Clothes designer Alexander Julian entered the furnishings market last year with his Home Colours collection by Universal Furniture. Comfort and informality were its keynotes.

The most talked-about introduction was Lexington's Palmer Home Collection, the industry's largest ever with more than 200 pieces. These were, yes, traditional designs in over-scaled upholstered pieces and mahogany, pine, leather and wicker furniture. Lexington reproduced golf great Arnold Palmer's home, including his garage, his country club and his locker room to showcase the furnishings.

There were few golf motifs. This was primarily comfortable furniture that middle America would be proud to have in its home. It's worth noting that industry analysts were more impressed by the breadth of the collection and solid good looks than any design innovations.

Mr. Epperson did mention one introduction that may signal a change in direction from the ever bigger and heavier. This was Baker's Archetype Collection by San Francisco designer Michael Vanderbyl. The furniture is contemporary, done primarily in European sycamore, with curves, veneer patterns and silver hardware of fluted tassels and pulls to soften the modern lines. "It's a long time since I've seen anything that delicate and fragile-looking," Mr. Epperson said.

Past markets

Besides over-scaled pieces, other continuations from past markets included:

* Comfort. "The comfort issue is here to stay," says Nancy Dowdy at Century, and just about all the manufacturers seem to agree. Sofas and chairs are plump, plush and soft. In a recent Roper survey, an astounding 79 percent of women said above all they wanted their homes to look "comfortable."

* Chenilles and tapestries are still popular, but chintz is suddenly looking fresh.

* Texture is still important. It translates to consumers as comfortable, said Linda Jones of Masco.

* The combination of leather and fabrics continues strong.

* Eclecticism is hotter than ever. Century's Coddington Square is "fabulously eclectic," said Nancy High.

* Exotic looks continue to affect design -- particularly eclectic ones. Lane, for instance, introduced its Marrakesh collection, blending French, Spanish, English and Moorish designs.

* Neutral colors were once again everywhere, from white to mushroom, in gray, brown and yellow tones. Why? Perhaps simply because they are safe.

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